Rural Gujarat was expected to be the key deciding factor in the state polls but, according to political experts, the election results on Monday showed no uniform trend in the rural areas, except in Saurashtra, where the Congress almost doubled its seat count.
In the 2012 elections, of the 98 rural seats in Gujarat (classified according to the 2011 census), the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) had won 48 seats, while the Congress bagged the remaining 50.
In this election, the BJP was expected to fare worse in the rural belt, with prices of major commercial crops, particularly groundnut and cotton, falling below their state-fixed minimum support price (MSP) – the average mandi price of groundnut seed was around ~3,800 a quintal, as against the MSP of ~4,450 for most of the time since October, while cotton seed prices were also below the MSP, before recovering marginally due to fears of crop loss in some parts.
However, available data seems to suggest that barring the Saurashtra region, the ruling BJP hasn’t fared that badly in the rural areas of north and central Gujarat.
Data tracked by Business Standard shows that of the 48 constituencies in Saurashtra, the Congress won 15 seats in 2012, and this number has gone up to 28 in 2017, an increase of 13 seats. In total, according to the final seats tally, the Congress has gained 16 more seats this time, of which 13 came from the Saurashtra region alone.
Data from the NITI Aayog showed that in the 2014-15 and 2015-16 financial years, the Gross State Value Added of agriculture, forestry and fishing dipped to a negative 0.48 per cent and 1.28 per cent, respectively. This fall, though against the backdrop of over 26 per cent growth in 2013-14, indicated that the state’s superlative performance in agriculture was showing signs of wearing off.
On top of that, the sharp fall in prices of main commercial crops in just concluded kharif harvest season was expected to aggravate the distress. However, publicly available information shows that hasn’t uniformly translated into electoral gains for the Congress across the state.
“It seems the Congress hasn’t properly tapped into the resentment in rural Gujarat. Though it talked about economic and agriculture-related issues, it wasn’t seen credible enough to have a pan-state impact,” said Yogendra Yadav, psephologist and national president of Swaraj India.
He said the Congress had promised a loan waiver in Punjab and followed it up with actual certificates even before polling started. There was no such thing in Gujarat, which might have made people question their claims, he said.
Former Union Minister and economist Yogendra Alagh said though this kharif season wasn’t good for Gujarat farmers as their crop prices plummeted, but it seemed it wasn’t a big poll issue uniformly across the state. “Indian farmers seem to have got used to crop failures. But there was definitely disquiet in rural areas of the state,” Alagh said.